The Boys of Blur by N.D. Wilson, 195 pp, RL 4
When N. D. Wilson realized that many young readers think all great fantasies begin in England, he wrote the 100 Cupboards trilogy, an other-worlds-fantasy that begins in Henry, Kansas with baseball-playing Americans. And, while I love this magical trilogy, Leepike Ridge, Wilson's debut, which I reviewed in 2010, remains my favorite. In Leepike Ridge Wilson gives readers something rare - a genuine adventure story that feels like it could really happen, sort of a mash-up of Treasure Island and Tom Sawyer. N.D. Wilson has proven himself a fantastic writer of fantasy and reality based fiction, and with his newest book, The Boys of Blur, Wilson proves that he is also a master at merging the two. The Boys of Blur tells a fast paced story that is set solidly in the real world, but veers off into fantasy quickly, and in a very exciting way, moving at a pace that keeps up with the super-human speed of the titular characters.
There are two mythologies in The Boys of Blur that cross paths and collide spectacularly as the story unfolds. There is the mythology of Taper, a town set deep in the heart of the Florida Everglades that is barely more than the mucky fields of sugar cane that are regularly slashed and burned and the winning high school football team with their supernaturally fast players. Spectacular in itself, the process of harvesting the sugar cane sounds and looks other-worldly and makes the perfect setting for the magic that roils just below the surface of Taper. Wilson sets the stage for this with a preamble that reads like a poetic epic (and a bit like a Shel Silverstein poem) which is appropriate since Wilson references Grendel, the monster from Beowulf.
Charlie Reynolds is the son of one of Taper's promising football stars and the step-son of one of Taper's football stars who went on to NFL success. Divorced from her Charlie's abusive father, Natalie is now married to Prester Mack, father of Charlie's little sister, Molly. The death of Willie Wisdom, foster father to twenty-seven boys and head coach of the Taper Terrapins for thirty-two years, brings Charlie's family back to Taper. When Charlie meets his cousin Cotton, the boys find themselves exploring the graveyard in dark of night and witnessing a grave robber taking Willie Wisdom's body. Panthers, men wearing animal skins and speaking Creole and strange mounds that dot the landscape of Taper are just the start of the strange, dangerous events that unfold.
Wilson combines a family's personal history of football, failure, abuse and redemption with an ancient tale of good and evil that blends ancient mythologies, the natural world and zombie culture , making for a suspenseful story. There is one amazing scene that occurs in a Neverland-like hidden pocket of the bayou where giant trees have grown together forming the high-up-home of an Earth Mother healer who tends to Charlie, Cotton and the other boys who have been poisoned by the Gren, zombies that are "human seeds made into vessels for a evil as old as Cain." This scene is so powerful that it is burned into my imagination forever. It is in this treehouse-dream world-city that Charlie learns how to defeat the mother of the Gren who is turning the town of Taper into a rage-fueled riotous rampage, and just possibly save the poisoned boys, including himself and his cousin. The Boys of Blur ends on a triumphant, somewhat bittersweet note that is very satisfying. The Boys of Blur is a book you will think of long after you have finished reading it.
Source: Review Copy